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“Wally, you simply have to do something about your hearing,” ordered Sweetie after repeated requests for help with a chore received no response.

Wally rose to comply explaining. . . to himself, wisely. . . his “hearing” was okay, it was his listening that was finely tuned. But like many an ex-railroader, the noise of the job over the decade had reduced his hearing acuity substantially. Probably to the level of most teenagers after a couple of years of head banger rock and 24 hour-a-day attachment to their iPhone.

But the next week wandering through Fat Frantic, Wally noticed a sign in a window offering 'free' hearing tests. Why not, he thought and wandered in.

“Yes, you certainly do have some hearing loss. What did you do for a living?” queried the attendant. Wally explained he was an ex railroader.

“Well you know you could probably receive some Workplace Compensation Assistance,” offered the expert.

Compensation! Wally's ears perked right up.

“How?” he shot back.

“I'll set up an appointment with a specialist in the city. He'll determine if you are eligible,” came the reply.

A month later Wally was sitting in the examination room. The specialist said not a word, just looked in Wally's ears and started writing on a form. He never bothered talking to patients. They couldn't hear what he was saying anyways.

“Well?” demanded Wally.

“Yeah you can't hear very well. You are eligible for compensation. I'll send you out some forms,” were the parting words as Wally was shown the door.

A few weeks later the forms arrived. . . seven pages to be filled out in triplicate. The covering letter stated the railroad had no record of Wally. Was he sure he was real or still alive?

“Well, they are sending me a pension check every month, so I must still be alive. Better be careful here or they'll be sending the wife my death benefits,” reasoned Wally as he carefully filled out the forms.

The forms were of course rejected at first- three times in fact- until all the addendums were completed properly, also in triplicate, and notarized.

“Then they insisted I have a full physical, to make sure I was alive and would live long enough to use my new hearing aids. Said I needed a pacemaker as well and then special hearing aids that wouldn't interfere with it,” Wally continued with his saga over his third refill at the Bakery in Rainy River. The whole Debating Table had been listening with rapt attention. How much they were hearing varied widely depending on their level of hearing loss and the amount of battery power left in their individual hearing aids. The whistling and feedback on several aids interrupted the tale while the various owners adjusted their units.

“So when do you get the ear pieces,” I asked particularly interested as my wife, the Pearl of the Orient, has strongly suggested I could use a little boost in the hearing and listening department.

“Oh I've already got them,” replied Wally.

I peered at his ears unable to see any signs of an aid. Maybe they were hiding in the bushy ear hair Wally had sprouted.

“Oh, they're not there. They're in my pocket. Way too noisy,” explained Wally noting my puzzled stare.

Gingerly, he picked up his cup gripping it with both hands.

“What's up with the wrists,” I asked.

“Oh, the Doc says I've got severe carpal-tunnel syndrome from filling out too many forms,“ explained Wally, adding, ”Says I should be eligible for Workplace Compensation Assistance.”

-First published in September 2010.

Column:

Jack Elliot - Squirrel Pie

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